Reporting on free (and sometimes hateful) speech

Let’s pretend for a second that there’s a “church” whose primary mission is disseminating hatred.

For example, this “church” believes that the bad things that happen in the United States are God’s just punishment on a depraved country. That God hates homosexuals. That God hates Catholics, Jews, people in the military — all “proud sinners.”

When members of this group show up at military funerals, or at other events where they think a demonstration of hatred is justified, should reporters and photographers show up to report what they chant and take pictures of the sentiments they express on signs?

It’s a question we’ve discussed in the past in the Missourian newsroom. We talked about it, too, when a group of neo-Nazis decided to march in Columbia.

The basic, first question goes something like this: By covering the activities of white supremacist and other kinds of hate groups, do we help their cause? It’s a question that is often applied to covering terrorist groups, too. Are we in the news media actually feeding a problem by providing a platform?

The march in Charlottesville recently by torch-carrying white supremacists and a counter-protest ended in the death of a young woman and multiple injuries, so there was no question of whether or not to cover the events there.

But how to cover these events is a little more complicated because the language and images we choose can have a big impact on how the public perceives the reality of what occurred. We have to be careful and thoughtful in our decision-making.

Thursday in class, we’re going to talk about how to cover demonstrations of hatred and hate groups. Have a look at what the Poynter Institute had to say about it in this recent piece. Be ready to discuss.


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